One Christian’s perspective on the day’s news:
1. An excellent new website directs families to ministry opportunities locally and internationally. Families looking to spend purposive time together will find great resources, and organizations in need of volunteers will find families eager to serve. I am interested in creating a similar resource for individuals at Patheos, so try it out and let me know what you think works and what could be improved.
2. An astronaut takes a piece of missionary history with him into space.
3. Iranian “President” Ahmadinejad, who recently stole an election, is pressing hard for the protesters to be prosecuted. Will the Obama administration take a stand? Will we, as Christians?
4. I applaud the Obama administration for going after illegal tax havens. The Swiss government agreed a little while ago to hand over account information on UBS customers who sought to avoid paying taxes by stowing money away in the famously secretive Swiss bank accounts, and now says that the IRS may seek information on customers in other Swiss banks as well. Even those Christians, such as myself, who prefer minimal taxation, should hope that those who illegally evade tax payment are caught and forced to pay their share. It’s hard to see a Christian case against transparency and complying with the law of the land. In fact, the whole Swiss banking system, which keeps money on behalf of dictators and drug lords the world over, is in need of serious reform. I am sure it is a major source of income for the Swiss government (Swiss banks hold $2 trillion in accounts for overseas customers), but it is morally repugnant, and time for Switzerland to give it up. Germany and France have been especially vocal in opposition to Swiss banking secrecy, and the government is making new treaties to prevent tax fraud.
UBS admitted to participating “in a scheme to defraud the U.S.,” and tax evasion through Switzerland costs us, at least, tens of billions of dollars in lost tax revenue every year. Which makes it peculiar (though not necessarily wrong) that Obama played golf the other day with UBS’ CEO of American operations, Robert Wolf. Since Robert Wolf was one of Obama’s biggest donors, bundling at least $250,000 for him, and is an Obama appointee to the Economy Recovery Advisory Council, some, such as Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!, object. Perhaps UBS got off lightly, since they are paying only $780 million to settle the U.S. suit against them, and handing over information on fewer than 1/10th of the number of clients the U.S. government requested? Perhaps. One imagines that, in a split government, such potential conflicts of interest would be supervised by Congress.
Goodman is wrong, however, when she objects to the “backdoor bailout” UBS received through AIG. When the U.S. government gave taxpayer money to AIG, some of that money went to other companies, such as Goldman Sachs and UBS, who had taken out insurance against loan defaults and etc. In order to keep functioning, AIG had to give the money it had promised. (UBS was given $2.5B from the bailout–or perhaps $5b total, according to some reports I’m seeing.) Goodman writes: “UBS, this bank that shelters wealthy tax dodgers, was actually being bailed out by hardworking U.S. taxpayers.” Not really; AIG was being bailed out, and was contractually obligated to give money to UBS. The issue of tax dodging at UBS is a separate issue.
5. The reports of the Congressional Research Service are not released to the public; the CRS works to answer questions raised by people in Congress. Yet the CRS report that concludes that illegal immigrants would receive coverage–and in fact would be required to get coverage through the health insurance exchanges–is seeing the light of day. In short, there are no meaningful enforcement mechanisms that would prevent illegal immigrants from receiving coverage–and they, like all people, would be required to get coverage. Democrats defeated each Republican attempt to introduce enforcement mechanisms that would prevent illegal immigrants from receiving health insurance courtesy of the United States government. I am making no claim on where Christians should stand in regard to health insurance for illegal immigrants; I am only saying that the notion that illegal immigrants would receive coverage is, despite the President’s protestations (does he not know what it is in the bill? or is he simply being dishonest?), not a myth, lie or distortion. It is quite reasonable. The Congressional Research Service says so.
6. More Evidence of the Fall, exhibit #11: a man named Phillip Garrido in California kidnapped an 11-year-old girl from South Lake Tahoe and took her to his home 200 miles away, where he hid her from the world for 18 years and fathered two children by her. Not quite as horrific, but still horrific and reminiscent of the Austrian madman.
7. I don’t mind that Michael Vick is back playing in the NFL, at least in the pre-season. I do mind that he received a standing ovation. Support from fans, even Philadelphia fans, does not have to be mindless and automatic.
8. Sometimes the stupidity of our elected representatives astonishes me. As anyone who has worked in the Congress can tell you, Congressmen are not necessarily much smarter than the average American. Senators tend to be more intelligent than Representatives. Yet even the intelligent ones, given that their words are constantly recorded and reported to the world, make stupid mistakes.
Consider this one. Senator Jim Inhofe, at a town hall meeting Wednesday, said of the health-care reform bill: “I don’t have to read it, or know what’s in it. I’m going to oppose it anyways.” In context, the point is clearly that the headlong rush to pass a massive and sudden transformation of the American system is not a process that he accepts, and he will oppose anything that emerges from that process in order to oppose the process itself. As the report goes on to say: “Inhofe said publid opinion and information provided by news media have helped him become a staunch non-supporter of the bill. He said he would prefer waiting until after the mid-term elections to enact reforms. He did not say nothing should be done. He simply feels that a topic as important as healthcare should not be rushed through the Senate or House of Representatives.”
Yet we will, inevitably, see another story about how the Republicans don’t care about health-care reform, don’t care to accomplish anything to serve the American people, and are committed to opposing the bill simply in order to bring down Obama. You can bet on it.The report received attention because Inhofe says that Americans are not accepting the transformation of government into a far larger and more intrusive form, and “we are almost reaching a revolution in this country.” Also not the best language.
As an indication of the greater stupidity of House members, however, consider Kansas Republican representative Lynn Jenkins, who said that the Republican party is still looking for its “great white hope” to oppose Obama in 2012.
9. As predicted, Republicans accuse Democrats of “exploiting” Ted Kennedy’s death in order to revive the fortunes of health-care reform. Although I’m sure the same accusation would be leveled by Democrats if the situation were reversed, this is easily dismissed as ordinary partisan politics without meaning. Kennedy would be thrilled to have his death “exploited” in this way if it helped pass health-care reform, which he had sought for ages. One thing I did not know about Kennedy, but which was mentioned by Howie Carr in yesterday’s anti-hagiography: Kennedy was pro-life into the 1970s. This was his take in 1971: “Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.”
And speaking of hagiographies, see this one from CNN. Even the Robert Bork slander, which should be indefensible to any reasonable person, is cast in the most positive possible light. Consider that one of Kennedy’s favorite things to joke about was Chappaquiddick itself. Ed Klein, a liberal journalist (“he always saw the other side of everything, and the ridiculous side too), seems to think this shows what a big heart he had. Huh?
It’s also worth remembering that Ted Kennedy could have achieved universal health-care if he had cut a deal with Nixon in the 1970s. Nixon had political reasons for favoring universal coverage (by employer mandate (which Joe Klein loathes) and federal subsidies for insurance to low-income individuals), and Kennedy had political reasons for rejecting it. Largely it was a question of who would get the credit.
10. The consequences of Kennedy’s death, for health-care reform, are still unclear. More now are suggesting that Democrats, without the hope of getting the 60 votes they would need to break a Republican filibuster, will retreat to the “reconciliation” process and actually pass a more sweeping and more partisan bill with 51 votes. That would have to pass muster, however, with the Senate parliamentarian, as discussed earlier, or else Democrats can divide the reform into two bills, one to pass by reconciliation and another to pass by regular vote.
Or the Democrats who control the legislature in Massachusetts may change the law so that the Democratic governor can appoint an interim Senator to Kennedy’s seat. No less a figure than Harry Reid, head of the Senate, is pressing for them to do so. (Ironically, Kennedy led the movement to take away the governor’s appointment power a mere five years ago, when Republican governor Mitt Romney would have been able to appoint a replacement for John Kerry if Kerry had won the White House. This hypocrisy, if such it is, is rarely mentioned in these stories.) The leaders of the Massachusetts legislature are being mum so far on whether they will change the law–but this is wise. There really shouldn’t be any doubt that they will do whatever they have to do to help the Democrats nationally, but they are waiting for the offers to come in. Sure, I’ll change the law so the governor can make an appointment–but what’s in it for me?
11. The 8-year war in Afghanistan saw its deadliest months in July and August. July had 44 deaths, and August has 44 so far. Now that American commanders have called for more troops, Obama is going to have some tough decisions to make. Let’s remember we have a war ongoing that is still bloody for American servicemen and women, and we need to keep them, and their commanders, and Afghanistan and especially the innocent citizens who are at risk, in our prayers.
12. Brilliant. First came the “birthers.” Now, courtesy of The Onion, come the “afterbirthers,” who demand to see Obama’s placenta.
13. Today’s Two Sides, #1. A quickie. Charles Krauthammer, writing from the Right, believes that “Obamacare 1.0” is dead and recommends how Obama might recover and pass a different version of reform nonetheless. (Many, even on the Left, are calling for a relaunch.) Jonathan Cohn, writing from the Left, also suggests things Obama should do differently, and contends that the fight is far from over.
14. Sign of the Times: Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, is the victim of identity fraud.
15. Mickey Kaus, who maintains a center-left blog for Slate, tries to throw cold water on the theory that a loss of the Democrat’s Congressional majority in 2010 would be the best thing that could happen for Obama. I’m not sure he entirely overturns the theory, but he does show that it’s not so simple. Kaus has always been one of my favorite bloggers on the left of center.
16. Youth unemployment hits a record high. A consequence of the minimum wage increase? Some think so.